Teaching About Rape: 2 Things You Can Do

It’s a testament to its prevalence that I  know three women who have been raped. (Undoubtedly, I know more.)

But what I find particularly striking is that in each of the three cases, the man showed no indication that he thought he did anything illegal.

One waved and smiled at his victim in the days after and even tried to connect on MySpace. Another sent a text the morning after apologizing for being, “too drunk to realize you were saying no.”

If you know you committed a crime–uh, you don’t do that.

What’s with these guys? Oh, so many things.

Conventional wisdom, for one. Consider thealleged Congress Theater Rape. A young woman, in a drunken stupor, is waiting for her friends at a restaurant across the street from the theater when she is approached by several men. They are seen carrying her out of the restaurant. Thirty minutes later, she is found a half block away, bloody and naked on the sidewalk. She has been raped and beaten so badly she is in a coma.

The story is horrible, violent, violating, everything we are taught rape is. It is also what happens about 16% of the time*. Mostly, rape is committed by someone the victim knows and many times, in comparison, it is almost subtle.

Subtle in terms of conventional wisdom only. Not subtle in truth. Certainly not subtle in pain. The insertion of a man into the body of a woman who does not want him there is violent. No blood or bruises necessary. No gang rapes, chains, foreign objects, strangulation, punches, or slit throats.

But my, we love the gore, don’t we?

I wonder how the Congress Theater story would have played had the woman been that drunk, but had been merely raped on a bed in a dorm room.

It wouldn’t have played. At all.

The victim of that horrible crime deserves every ounce of attention she has received, and more. But why are we too often on the side of the victim only when she is beaten to a pulp?

There are even apologists of the “subtle” rapes, men and women who argue, essentially, that because a woman says yes to some sexual acts she is saying yes to all; or that a woman should know better than to get too drunk; or that (shrug) things happen when people drink, a guy’s life should not be ruined because of one mistake. (Love the euphemism–did he mean to wash the dishes?)

It doesn’t matter what happened before, during, or after intercourse. If someone is violated without consent, that is rape. THAT. IS. ILLEGAL.

So what can we do?

I have a whole list of things, not-even-close-to-least of which is shaming our justice system into finding the courage to try cases they have a chance of losing (ie. cases in which the victim is NOT found naked in a coma on the street). But blog posts are supposed to be short, so today I’ve whittled my list down to two simple things:

1. Teach boys and men that a lack of consent is not only indicated by saying, “No.” That old slogan “No means no” gets us only so far. Lack of consent can also be indicated by NOT SAYING YES. This means, fellas, being too drunk or drugged or ASLEEP. And if you’re too drunk to know whether she’s too drunk, see #2.

2. Women are warned, as if the responsibility rests solely on their shoulders, that if they drink too much, bad things might happen to them.

Let’s warn the men, too. As in, “If you drink too much, you might think it’s okay to stick your penis inside the girl sleeping next to you. And guess what? If you do that, it’s a felony.”

Let me add that this knowledge is useful for women, too. Give yourself permission to cry, “Rape,” when you see it.

To sum it up: TALK ABOUT RAPE. What it is, what it isn’t only, what it looks like, what it doesn’t always.

I’ll leave you with a story that I think portrays this issue quite well.

My friend, whose wife had just had a daughter, was told by his friend, whose wife had just had a son, “I pity you. Thank God I won’t have to deal with worrying after a girl.”

To which my friend replied, “You know, as the father of a girl, I sure would appreciate it if you help me out and teach your son how to treat her well.” 

* 84% of women who are raped know their assailant, according to “Rape in America: A Report to the Nation.”  Source: http://www.rvap.org

13 thoughts on “Teaching About Rape: 2 Things You Can Do

  1. Excellent piece, Jess. I enjoy each and every part of it. I especially enjoy the part where you say NOT SAYING YES is lack of consent. Thankfully, the federal government finally recognizes this too. Let’s hope that society soon follows and starts to educate boys and men more often. It is pathetic how many men joke about rape amongst friends, and strangers…. How many men buy multiple shots for women they want to take home with them. Why do you think that is? It takes a real man to woo a woman into a consensual relationship. It takes a coward to force a woman into a non-consensual relationship. Let’s start producing more men in our society. We seem to be lacking in them these days.

    • I hope society follows soon, too. And I think the justice system can play a big role in that–the more cases they try, the more rape will be seen as not just crime in which a stranger jumps out of a dark alley and threatens you with a knife.

  2. Excellent piece….to the point. As a college instructor I have heard many stories of young girls being date raped and the torment they go through for months if not years….you addressed some of their feelings very well in your initial blog on rape. And yes, we need to teach our boys how to respect and treat our girls well!!

  3. I have talked to my older daughter about sex, sexuality, reproduction, and her body being her own. I’ve mentioned what rape was. However, I think that from now on I will be a little more intentional about it. Thanks for this difficult post.

    • Yes — I think it’s normal to sort of brush over topics like rape because they’re so disturbing. I was taught about rape–but looking back, those phrases like, “No means no” are too general. The more possible scenarios we can present to children, the better, I think. Thanks for reading.

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